Ninjin: Clash of Carrots is a little package with quite a punch. Set in feudal Japan and taking place during a very lengthy pursuit (hence all the running), Ninjin: Clash of Carrots has you playing as the titular rabbit Ninjin, or as Akai, the ninja fox, scrapping your way through waves of enemies as you race to recover a stash of stolen carrots in classic beat-em-up fashion.
The lighthearted story is reflected at every level of Ninjin: Clash of Carrots, as everything from the art style to the anthropomorphic critter characters, is designed to be enjoyed at face value. This isn’t to say there isn’t depth to some of the characters and locations, as both accounts offer distinctions among them; it’s more that the focus is always on the tight gameplay and less on understanding any nuances in the surrounding designs.
The story wastes no time in putting control into the player’s hands. The first level does a fine job of explaining the two forms of combat (melee and ranged) and explains some of the dash mechanics in a very easy to understand way. Enemies will enter from either the left or right-hand edges, and you must defeat them all before progressing onto the next stage of the level, all pretty straightforward stuff that benefits from the brief introduction.
With the first level dedicating its stages to each mechanic, it was perhaps a bit too simple for someone with any form of experience, but even with a minor obstacle, the combat is a joy. A large part of this enjoyment lies in the pathing the enemies take, with many having scripted movements, meaning success and failure are always on the player. You won’t be chased around the entire game, and with a mix of sword and shuriken can easily play tactically instead of simply brawling. I love that the game gives you what you need right out of the gate, and doesn’t arbitrarily drip feed mechanics as you go.
The lack of mechanical variety on the players part doesn’t get stale thanks to the amount of weaponry available through a merchant outside of missions, and chests found during them. Spears, swords, and great weapons each have their own strengths and weaknesses and finding the one that best suits your current mood or challenge allows for more enjoyment in the long run.
For instance, I decided to stick with swords for a playthrough, leaving the other forms of weapon fresh for experimenting on subsequent runs. I will admit this largely came down to personal tastes, as I didn’t feel like any of the pros really outweigh the cons for the others, but Ninjin: Clash of Carrots does a fine job catering to all. The same can be said for the ranged assortment of weaponry, as loadouts can range from bouncing shurikens flying around the screen hitting all in sight, to delayed explosives and boomerangs. There really is enough here that helps keep stagnation away.
Another aspect to the gameplay is the dreaded ‘energy’ system, governing how much and how often you can spam the abilities and attacks that require it as a cost. The majority of weapons won’t expend this resource per swing, but those special ones with elemental modifiers can, causing some headaches against certain enemies. Ranged will always cost an amount, which is nicely balanced to stop the power gamer from spamming shurikens until the cows come home. Dashes are also affected, so again some level of control is needed when utilizing.
Fortunately, an empty energy reserve doesn’t feel awful, as movement is fast and responsive allowing you to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and dodge as it refills at a generous rate. It doesn’t feel like the energy is there to punish you, more to stop you from cheesing the game, and feels perfectly balanced.
As you progress through the stages, enemies are introduced via a cute little cutscene, which is largely unnecessary but does a good job of announcing something new. My only complaint around this was the arrival of an endless mode unlocked around five or so levels in. This is here to allow players the opportunity of winning loot per ten stages completed and features a large array of enemies.
The problem comes from the fact that the entire enemy pool is here, and my first time on this mode I went up against a large portion of as-yet-unannounced enemies without an introduction of any kind. I thought nothing of it at the time until I started having them ‘announced’ to me during the story, which feels a bit flat once you have cut through a handful of them already.
As you pursue across the world map, bosses and biomes will come and go ensuring you never lose the feeling of progress. Despite the focus being squarely on the gameplay, having the pallet of colours shift in the background breathes new life a good amount of time before the current one falls off. There isn’t much character development, yet some bosses will reappear and the few cutscenes outside of combat does a good job of establishing some personality among the cast.
Despite its simple and straightforward gameplay, Ninjin: Clash of Carrots nails the fundamentals, and does a good job of keeping the ship steady as she goes. Enemy variety ramps up nicely without any feeling like repetitions of the previous in new suits. Ranged enemies will start flinging delayed explosives and weighted balls with which you can volley right back, and soon formations will start appearing that provide an opportunity for good old fashioned brawling as you cut through them.
One of the larger rules in the game is the lack of rear attacks with the melee weapons as you chase across levels from left to right. This can sometimes devolve to you hugging the left hand side to melee, and at the worst of times leaves a lot of the challenge out of levels. Always attacking to the right led to me sweeping the screen once, dashing back to the left, and then sweeping again.
However flinging projectiles in every direction via the right analogue feels nice and controlled with some generous aim assist, so controlling the center and moving where you are needed will rarely leave you exposed or feeble to any particular direction. Of course this changes depending on your loadout, as some selections leave you exhausting quicker than others as mentioned previously, again this is one more way the game allows you to feel in control.
The sound design does a nice job of injecting some urgency into hectic situations, as a rolling jingle is always present in the background. Attacks are also met with very distinct sound and animation, adding another layer of reward to successful strikes and gives your attacks weight. This also helps display when you are actually landing hits, as the screen can become very busy as waves of enemies come and go.
The benefit of having set waves throughout a level means they are careful designed to be an exact amount, you wont get overrun by taking your time. On the one hand this is a great way for the developers to manage difficulty throughout, but on the other hand its very strict in what you can and can’t take on. The difficulty never felt all that hard, yet there were one or two times when it spiked, and a game I had been enjoying casually lying down on the couch turned into me perched on the edge of the seat retrying and retrying.
Maybe I’m just a casual, but this game felt most enjoyable when this difficulty bordered on easy. A lot of the reward was unlocking new weapons and items, not really moving onto the next level. This may come from an understated story, or a very strong gameplay element.
Finding weapons isn’t the only way of becoming stronger, as the currency of the world, carrots, are dropped in abundance whenever an enemy is dispatched. This can allow you to buy weapons and cosmetics from the vendors, and really lets you invest into a particular style of gameplay. They also boast a wide range of visual design which stops it from being just a numbers game, at one point I was swinging a giant piece of ham.
Allowing for multiplayer is the final feather in this charming games cap, as the two characters allow you and a friend to sprint across the world together, dishing out your own vigilante justice. The online multiplayer gives even more flexibility when it comes to teaming up, and whats better than one ninja? Two.